US 7649323 B1
A self-contained, rechargeable LED flashlight uses a zener diode in reverse-breakdown avalanche mode as a low-cost voltage regulator. A second embodiment of the LED flashlight incorporates boost-buck circuitry to allow the internal rechargeable flashlight battery to be recharged through external dry cells. An LED or LED array of the flashlight may be by passed with operator control to allow an internal battery to operate an external device, such as a cellular telephone or the like.
1. A rechargeable light-emitting device driver circuit, comprising:
a voltage source;
a rechargeable first battery having a nominal battery voltage connected in parallel with the voltage source;
a first nonlinear current-blocking device having a reverse-breakdown voltage greater than the nominal battery voltage connected in parallel between the voltage source and the first battery for charging the first battery at the nominal battery voltage by the voltage source;
a second nonlinear current-blocking device connected in series between the first nonlinear current blocking device and the first battery to prevent discharge of the first battery through the voltage source; and,
a light-emitting device having a forward bias voltage approximately equal to the nominal battery voltage in series with a first switch operatively connected to logic means for controlling the first switch, the light-emitting device and first switch connected in parallel with the first battery whereby the first battery can power the light-emitting device under control of the logic means and the voltage source can recharge the first battery.
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11. A rechargeable light-emitting diode flashlight driver circuit, comprising:
a low-current voltage source;
a rechargeable first battery having a nominal battery voltage connected in parallel with the voltage source;
a Zener diode having a reverse-breakdown voltage greater than the nominal battery voltage connected in parallel between the voltage source and the first battery for limiting voltage applied to the first battery by the voltage source;
a Schottky diode connected in series between the zener diode and the first battery to prevent discharge of the first battery through the voltage source; and,
a light-emitting diode having a forward bias voltage approximately equal to the nominal battery voltage connected in series with a first switch, the first switch operatively connected to logic means for controlling the first switch, the light-emitting diode and first switch connected in parallel with the first battery whereby the first battery can power the light-emitting diode under control of the logic means and the voltage source can recharge the first battery.
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The invention generally relates to portable illumination devices. More specifically, the invention relates to personal, handheld flashlights having a self-contained direct-current power supply and one or more light-emitting diodes as a light source.
Technology relating to handheld flashlights incorporating a direct-current power supply in the form of replaceable batteries and low-voltage, incandescent bulbs achieved a technological plateau in the 1970s. Advances in the state of the art typically related to methods of packaging the batteries and bulbs, and reflector designs. In particular, the capabilities of flashlights of this type are strictly limited by inherent characteristics of the incandescent bulb itself. Initially, evacuated bulbs using tungsten filaments enabled power supplies in the range of 1.3V (and more when such batteries are connected in series) to provide varying levels of illumination. So-called halogen bulbs permitted higher filament temperatures, increasing the output of such flashlights. Nevertheless, the inherent inefficiency of incandescent bulbs limited the duration of operation of such flashlights to a matter of a few hours or less, depending on the number of dry cells provided in the power supply. That is, for increased run time the batteries could be connected in parallel. For increased light intensity the batteries could be connected in series (for increased voltage) but at the expense of run time. In addition, filament bulbs are highly susceptible to mechanical shock, breaking the filament and rendering the flashlight inoperative. In addition, substantial development effort was directed to switch mechanisms for intermittently connecting the direct current power supply to the incandescent bulb so as to render either a more reliable or inexpensive switch, or both.
U.S. Pat. No. 4,242,724 to Stone is believed to be representative of one evolutionary branch of such technology relating to the packaging of a disposable floating flashlight in which the outer casing of the light itself forms a part of the switch mechanism that, when squeezed, completes electrical continuity between two AA (1.3 V each) batteries and an incandescent bulb. The flashlight is compact, and floats if accidentally dropped into water. U.S. Pat. No. 5,134,558 to Williams et al. discloses a different evolutionary branch in which the voltage output from four AA-type batteries is boosted by an oscillator-driven transformer rectifying circuit to an intermittent high voltage applied to a xenon gas flashtube so as to provide a high-intensity emergency flasher. The device disclosed in Williams et al. delivers significantly more illumination from a direct current power supply than does the incandescent bulb type of flashlight disclosed by Stone. Nevertheless, the circuitry disclosed in Williams et al. for operating the xenon flashtube is expensive, bulky, and only suitable for intermittent operation of the flashtube rather than for providing a constant light output. Thus, the teaching of the prior art disclosed by Williams et al. is not suitable for remedying the inherent limitations of the incandescent bulb type of flashlight technology disclosed by Stone.
As stated above, the fundamental limitations of prior art flashlights are related to inherent limitations of incandescent bulb technology, and inherent limitations of electrical circuits for driving other light-generating devices, such as the xenon flashtube shown by Williams et al. Nevertheless, semiconductor technology contemporarily advanced so as to provide semiconductor devices, including light-emitting diodes (hereinafter occasionally “LEDs”) having significantly lower current drain than incandescent bulbs in a highly robust package operable at relatively low direct current voltages. In addition, early LEDs were substantially more power efficient than incandescent bulbs having similar current consumption characteristics. Finally, the small physical size of LEDs permitted extremely efficient packaging shapes to be adopted for such lights. U.S. Pat. No. 5,386,351 to Tabor discloses such a space-efficient packaging design for a single LED flashlight. The Tabor patent discloses a two-part, snap-fit housing incorporating a discoid type of battery in which one leg of a two-terminal LED is employed as part of a cantilever spring switch mechanism that, upon depression by a flexible button, completes a direct current circuit to the LED. Unfortunately, such early stage LEDs could not provide significant light output without being driven at very high currents, in which case, the power efficiency of the LED with respect to the quantity of light produced significantly decreased. Also, LEDs in use during the period in which the Tabor patent application was filed were capable of producing light in only the red part of the visible spectrum. These two limitations resulted in an LED flashlight only having utility for intermittent operation or continuous illumination over short distances. Therefore, such personal flashlights could not supplant conventional incandescent bulb flashlights, which have a more linear relationship with respect to supply voltage and current. A high-intensity incandescent bulb flashlight can be produced by merely increasing the amount of current and/or voltage supply to the bulb. Conventional LEDs, being nonlinear devices, do not respond in such a linear fashion. Therefore, LEDs were often employed in lighting devices for alternative purposes, such as the color-coded, multiple-LED light and key device shown in U.S. Pat. No. 4,831,504 to Nishizawa et al. The Nishizawa et al. patent discloses a combination LED flashlight and key in which multiple LEDs having different colors are driven by separate, manual switches and/or a microprocessor to signal an appropriate light-detecting and demodulating device in association with a door lock or operating lock. Similarly, international Patent Application No. WO 01/77575 A1 titled, “Portable Illumination Device” published on Oct. 18, 2001, to Allen discloses a unique product package for a single-LED personal flashlight employing a discoid type of battery in which multiple depressions of a switch incorporated into the product housing cycle the single LED through multiple modes according to instructions stored in a microprocessor within the housing. Neither the invention disclosed by Nishizawa et al. nor the invention disclosed by Allen is capable of substantially increasing the light output of the LED such that the lighting devices disclosed therein are adequate replacements for high-intensity incandescent bulb flashlights. The principal reason for this is that light-emitting diodes, being junction semiconductor devices, have a forward bias voltage that is predetermined by the physics of the semiconductor materials from which diodes are manufactured. The forward-biased voltage of silicon-based light-emitting diodes is approximately 3.6 V for aqua, blue, and white LEDs and 1.8 V for red, yellow, and green LEDs. The voltage-current characteristics of devices of this type are such that substantially increasing the applied voltage outside of a range defined by the forward bias voltage does not substantially increase the light output of the device, but merely results in vastly increased current flowing therethrough. The power output of a diode being equivalent to the product of the voltage applied thereto and the current flowing therethrough, higher voltages on the power supply side merely result in much higher current which results in wasted power without significant additional illumination. Thus, the light-emitting diode can basically be characterized as a device having an optimal operating characteristic defined by a substantially constant current at a nearly fixed voltage. Therefore, the only efficient method for substantially increasing light output of a prior art LED device based on the silicon architecture is to provide multiple LEDs in parallel with the direct current voltage supply. Unfortunately, this arrangement only drains the typical (1.2, 1.5, or 3 V) battery supplies quickly until the batteries can no longer supply the forward bias voltage of the diodes. Placing the LEDs in series with the power supply merely exacerbates this problem. Thus, although the direct current power supply may be capable of providing additional current (i.e., the batteries are not fully discharged yet) the partially depleted batteries cannot forward bias and thus illuminate the LEDs.
The semiconductor industry has recently addressed the above limitations of LEDs by providing white light LEDs based on indium-gallium-arsenic-phosphide architecture having forward bias voltages in excess of 3.6 V. LEDs of this type not only provide a white light that is more effective than the red light of the prior art doped-silicon technology, but also produce substantially more light output for a given current. Unfortunately, the battery technology based on a voltage of approximately 1.5 V per dry cell is again limited in that three dry cells in series, having a nominal voltage of 4.5 V, are quickly drained to an actual applied voltage of less than 3.6 V at which point the white light LED becomes inoperative even though the batteries still retain a substantial charge.
U.S. Pat. No. 7,015,654 to Kuhlmann et al., assigned to the assignee of the present invention, addresses the need for an LED driver circuit that conditions all of the available power within the conventional dry cell battery for application to high forward bias voltage LEDs by providing a microcontroller and boost converter circuit providing constant current to a light-emitting diode or diode array. The microcontroller is operatively coupled with a semiconductor switch and the boost converter circuit so as to measure the ability of a DC power supply to charge an inductor of the boost converter circuit. Duty cycles of the semiconductor switch are modified according to measurements so as to supply substantially constant current to the LED or LED array through the inductor, regardless of the actual instantaneous battery voltage. The problem of unused battery charge in LED flashlights having been solved, a challenge remained in making such flashlights rechargeable with the battery(s) in situ.
Rechargeable miniature flashlights are known and one flashlight of this type is described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,457,840, to Maglica et al., issued on Oct. 1, 2002. This rechargeable flashlight is of the incandescent bulb type utilizing conventional, miniature two- or three-cell flashlight batteries. The rechargeable flashlight has an external, tailcap switch that enables an external, conventional charging device to establish a current path to the internal rechargeable batteries. The external charging device uses a conventional voltage regulator to “step down” the power source voltage to the internal battery voltage. The only internal circuitry provided within the flashlight itself is a single diode to reverse block current flow from the internal batteries to external “charge rings 63, 70” (so that they do not) become inadvertently shorted together such as by laying the flashlight down on a metallic surface, in contact with a coin, etc. However, this prior art flashlight is not of the LED type and does not teach how to effectively recharge such a flashlight with internal circuitry and batteries in situ.
Thus, a need exists for a rechargeable light-emitting diode flashlight having self-contained recharging circuitry.
A further need exists for a self-contained, rechargeable light-emitting diode flashlight capable of recharging itself from a low-current power supply.
It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide a self-contained, rechargeable light-emitting diode flashlight.
It is a further object of the present invention to provide self-contained, rechargeable light-emitting diode flashlight that achieves the above object and which also can be recharged from a low-current power supply.
It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a self-contained, rechargeable light-emitting diode flashlight that achieves the above objects and which also can be recharged from a variety of power supplies.
The invention achieves the above objects, and other objects and advantages that will become apparent from the description that follows, by providing a rechargeable light-emitting device driver circuit usable with a self-contained, rechargeable light-emitting diode flashlight that includes a voltage source, a rechargeable first battery having a nominal battery voltage connected in parallel with the voltage source, and a first nonlinear current-blocking device having a reverse-breakdown voltage greater than the nominal battery voltage and connected in parallel between the voltage source and the first battery for charging the first battery at the nominal battery voltage by the voltage source. A second, nonlinear current-blocking device (e.g., a diode) is connected in series between the first nonlinear current-blocking device and the first battery to prevent discharge of the first battery through the voltage source. Finally, a light-emitting device (e.g., a light-emitting diode) having a forward bias voltage approximately equal to the nominal battery voltage is provided in series with a first switch operably connected to a logical control device. The series connected light-emitting device and first switch are connected in parallel with the first battery so that the first battery can power the light-emitting device, under the control of the logic device, and the voltage source can recharge the first battery.
In preferred embodiments of the invention, the voltage source (e.g., a photovoltaic array) is external to the flashlight and has a current output less than a maximum reverse-bias current rating of the first nonlinear current-blocking device. In an alternate embodiment of the invention, the voltage source is a second battery and the flashlight includes internal power-conditioning means having an inductor in series with a second switch operatively connected to the logic control device for boosting voltage from the second battery above the nominal voltage of the first battery and for recharging the first battery. The invention may include a third bypass switch controlled by the logic device and connected in shunt around the second nonlinear current-blocking device, so that the first battery can power an external device (e.g., a cellphone, fire-starting material, etc.) without powering the light-emitting device.
A self-contained rechargeable light-emitting diode (hereinafter “LED”) flashlight in accordance with the principles of the invention is generally indicated at reference numeral 10 in the various Figures of the attached drawings, wherein like numbered elements in the Figures correspond to like numbered elements herein. The flashlight includes upper and lower housings 12, 14 of the clamshell type, preferably manufactured from a high-impact polymer material such as ABS (acrlybutylstyrene) so as to define an internal chamber 18 suitable for receipt of a urethane button portion 22, a printed circuitboard 24, and a lithium ion coin-cell battery 26. The upper housing 12 defines a central aperture 28 for through-receipt of a deformable dome portion 30 of the urethane button 22. The upper housing also has resilient, downwardly depending legs 32, which engage corresponding receptacles 34 on the lower housing to secure the housings together with the button 22 the printed circuitboard 24, and the lithium ion battery 26 therebetween. The lower housing 14 defines forwardly positioned bores 36 for receipt of a pair of charge lugs 38, 40 that are electrically connected to the printed circuitboard 24 by wires 42. The lithium ion battery 26 is electrically and mechanically connected to the printed circuitboard 24 by positive first battery terminals 44 a and a negative first battery terminal 44 b, shown in
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The first switch 54 advantageously directly commutates direct current from the battery 26 to the LED array 62 without any dropping resistor through conventional pulsewidth modulation. To this end, the light-emitting device drive circuit 60 is provided with a logic control device 76, preferably in the form of an eight-bit programmable controller manufactured by Microchip, of Chandler, Ariz., USA. An appropriate Model No. PIC12F509A has eight pins numbered in the conventional manner with physical pin number 1 (VDD) being connected to positive first battery terminal 44 a and the source of the FET 54. Pin 8 of the logic control device 76 (ground) is connected to the cathode of the LED array 62 or LED 64 and the negative first battery terminal 44 b. General purpose pins 4 and 5 of the logic control device 76 are connected to the gate of the first switch 54 so as to control operation of the flashlight through sequential depressions of the multifunction pushbutton switch 58. As will be understood by those of ordinary skill in the art, the microcontroller 76 can be programmed to operate the LED array 62 or LED 64 according to a sequential event program, as described in detail in U.S. Pat. No. 7,015,654, issued on Mar. 21, 2006 to the assignee of the present invention, the disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference.
A second embodiment of the invention is generally indicated at reference numeral 60′ in
The circuit 60′ of the second embodiment includes a light-emitting diode array 62 consisting of a plurality of individual LEDs 64. The preferred light-emitting diode array has a total forward bias voltage of 3.6 V. Thus, the forward bias voltage (Vfb) of the LED array 62 is approximately equal to the first battery 26 nominal voltage. The power supply within the second battery compartment 12, however, can only supply at best its nominal voltage of 3.0 V. Therefore, circuit 60 includes a conventional boost circuit consisting of a 33 μH inductor 66 rated at 1 A in series with a Schottky diode 70 having a 0.1 V forward bias voltage in parallel with a 2.2 μF smoothing capacitor 72. The LED array 62 is in parallel with the smoothing capacitor in the conventional boost converter circuit configuration. A second switch 74, preferably in the form of an enhancement-mode, n-channel metal oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor (hereinafter “FET”) is provided to selectively connect the inductor 66 to ground so as to permit the power supply to charge the inductor when the gate of the FET is energized. The source of the FET 74 is connected to an output of the inductor 66 and the anode of the diode 70. The drain of the FET 74 is connected to the ground 44 b. The high side of the inductor 66 is connected to the positive charger 38. The gate of the FET 74 is connected to pin 2 of a logic control device 76 preferably in the form of an eight-bit programmable microcontroller manufactured by Microchip, of Chandler, Ariz., USA. An appropriate model number PIC 16F506 has fourteen pins numbered in the conventional manner. As stated above, the gate of the FET 74 is connected to pin 2 of that microcontroller (pin 5) in the preferred embodiment. Pin 1 is connected to the positive power supply 44 a, while pin 14 is connected to ground 44 b. Pins 3 and 4 are connected through the multifunction switch 58 to ground. The general purpose pins (physical pins 2-4 and 11-13) of the microcontroller 76 are of the tri-stable type, that is, these pins can be used as outputs (driven at CMOS logical high or low) or can be used as input pins that float like open circuits and can be intermittently connected through internal pull-up resistors to ground the supply voltage so that voltages can be measured at those pins. The invention advantageously employs the multistate characteristic of these pins to turn the FET switch 76 on and off so that the inductor 66 can be alternately charged and discharged, and at certain preselected periods during this charge/discharge cycle convert general purpose pin 5 (physical pin 2) to an input for measuring voltage in an RC timing circuit comprising the natural gate capacitance of the FET switch 74 connected to battery voltage through an internal pull-up resistance of the microcontroller. It is well known to those of ordinary skill in the art that all field-effect transistors (and the base of junction transistors as well) have an inherent capacitance with respect to ground. Gate capacitance is a known and fixed characteristic of the geometry and chemistry of the field-effect transistor that is provided by the manufacturer. In addition, the internal resistance of the microcontroller is also known and supplied by the manufacturer. The microcontroller is also capable of sensing at its general purpose pins when a threshold voltage (typically the CMOS threshold voltage of 1.2 V) is achieved at any of the general purpose pins when those pins are used as inputs. Thus, at an appropriate time the microcontroller 76 applies the power supply voltage from the second battery 120 through its internal resistance to the gate of the FET 74 and then measures the amount of time it takes for the gate capacitance to reach the threshold voltage. The gate capacitance and internal resistance being fixed, this time to threshold voltage is proportional to the ability of the second battery power supply to charge the inductor. Shorter times represent strong batteries. Longer times represent weak batteries. In the preferred embodiment, a time period of 11 μsec represents strong batteries, whereas a measured time of 31 μsec represents weak batteries. Although the RC curve is exponential, the initial part of the curve below 1.2 V is surprisingly linear such that the microcontroller 76 preferably increases the turn-on time of the FET by a proportionate amount to generate a larger magnetic field in the inductor 66 during a charge cycle. In this manner, a substantially constant current can be supplied for the LED array 62 regardless of the actual, instantaneous voltage of the battery supply available at external electrical contacts 44 a and 44 b. This is the case where even here in the second embodiment, the nominal battery voltage is significantly below the forward bias voltage of the LED array 62. In addition, the received transition time through the preselected threshold voltage of 1.2 volts is measured while the second battery is under load and, thus, is a more accurate representation of the ability of the second battery to energize the inductor 66.
It is to be understood that, although the voltage supplied by the inductor 66 through the blocking diode 70 is essentially a triangular wave having periods during which no current is being supplied the current supplied to the LED array 62 is substantially constant, due to the effect of the smoothing capacitor 72 and blocking diode 70. That is, during a discharge cycle, the capacitor 7 is charged to at least the forward bias voltage of the diode array 62, regardless of the actual battery voltage since the inductor is capable of supplying any voltage necessary to maintain the instantaneous current flow through the blocking diode. That is, the capacitor 72, during any period of time in which the voltage supplied by the inductor 66 is less than the forward bias voltage of the diode array 62, will itself supply current to the diode array. In this second embodiment, with the component values given, the LED array 62 is, in fact, supplied with a substantially constant current of approximately 75 mA. This is very close to an optimal supply of approximately 4 volts at 80 mA for each LED. The LEDs of this preferred embodiment will dim if supplied with voltage less than approximately 3.6 volts and will not operate at maximum efficiency provided with substantially less than 80 mA per LED.
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Finally, the microcontroller 76, 76 of either embodiment can be programmed to provide a variety of different modes of operation of the LED array 62 as well as to provide information to the user regarding the condition of the battery power supply in the battery compartment 12.
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Those of ordinary skill in the art will conceive of other alternate embodiments of the invention upon reviewing this disclosure. Thus, the invention is not to be limited to the above description, but is to be determined in scope by the claims that follow.